Subject: ABC: Timor needs to get rid of its army: Kingsbury

Also ABC: Calls for new UN mandate; WSJ: Due Dili-gence

ABC Online

The World Today - Timor needs to get rid of its army: analyst

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Tuesday, 30 May , 2006 12:21:00

Reporter: Toni Hassan

EDMOND ROY: How can East Timor recover from the crisis ripping the young democratic nation apart?

The World Today put that question to observers of East Timorese politics and society.

Among the most controversial ideas is the recommendation that East Timor scrap the country's dysfunctional army.

The military, analysts say, is too small to be effective, too expensive for a cash-strapped country to afford, and the source of too much friction with East Timor's police.

Toni Hassan has our story.

TONI HASSAN: There are multiple problems facing East Timor, a country that's been independent for only four years.

But top of the list, according to Damien Kingsbury, a senior lecturer in International Development Studies at Deakin University, is the military, an institution that has lost, he says, all credibility.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: There was a serious debate when it was established about whether East Timor should have an army, and essentially, whilst it was too expensive and didn't serve any particular purpose, the view was well, you've got to give the old guerillas some sort of task in the future, the reality is that they've comprehensively blown that opportunity.

TONI HASSAN: Do you think that had the army been disbanded and didn't exist in the new fledgling democracy we wouldn't have got to where we have, that the violence we've seen may not have happened?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: There's a very good chance that had the army not been established we wouldn't have these problems. We wouldn't have had the divisions between the police and the army, which are certainly behind a lot of their recent troubles.

TONI HASSAN: Damien Kingsbury says the army of about 1,500 soldiers is too small to have any practical defence capacity. And while it may serve a symbolic function, it causes more harm than good.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: It's interfered in politics by threatening the Government from time to time, and of course it's been divided within itself. So it's clearly failed. It has no defence function, in effect, and it's an expensive and politically divisive institution within the state, and quite frankly it needs to be gotten rid of.

TONI HASSAN: Another problem he identifies is language. It may seem like an obscure issue against the violence that has fractured East Timor, but fundamental. The people of East Timor are trying to sort out the muddle of languages that's a legacy of the complicated history and politics of the place.

The official languages of East Timor are now Portuguese and Tetum, but many young people were educated in Bahasa Indonesian. Plus, 15 other local languages are spoken. As a result, significant numbers of East Timorese have little command of either or both of their country's official languages.

East Timor's Muslim Prime Minister, who spent decades in Portugal during the independence struggle, speaks Portuguese - a language the people he governs don't speak or understand. Perhaps that problem adds weight to criticism that Mari Alkatiri is arrogant and aloof.

Damien Kingsbury says East Timor's official preference for Portuguese is ridiculous and a serious mistake.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Most people did speak, or do speak Indonesian, which they refer to as Malay, because it's more politically correct.

The difficulty is that there was just a lack of communication between many officials and many people, particularly in the courts and the bureaucracy, in formal documents and so on. So that needs to be, I think, reconsidered.

TONI HASSAN: Another problem identified is that East Timor's political culture does not tolerate dissent. Anyone who's disagreed with the Fretilin Government has been accused, especially by the Interior Minister, of being a traitor.

Associate Professor Kingsbury says Fretilin has to not only got to rebuild its support base, but the Opposition Democratic Party needs to be acknowledged by Government as a legitimate and loyal contributor.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: I'm not saying that the Democratic Party's policies are correct or incorrect, but rather there should be a right to have them expressed and listened to, and not to be threatened simply for expressing a differing point of view.

EDMOND ROY: Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury ending Toni Hassan's report.

---  Last Updated 29/05/2006 8:46:00 PM

EAST TIMOR: Calls for new UN mandate

As Australian troops struggle to contain the mob violence on the streets of Dili, there are growing calls for a wider international response to the crisis. East Timor's foreign minister has been talking to the United Nations Security Council about a new UN-led peacekeeping mission.

Presenter/Interviewer: Marion MacGregor

Speakers: Joe Camilleri, a professor of international relations at Melbourne's La Trobe University

CAMILLERI: It could happen overnight if it was necessary, the suggestion has been that the Council may need to agree on an especially mandated mission to succeed what has been there as of now, namely the United Nations office in East Timor. So what I suppose we're looking for in line with I think the wishes of the present UN Secretary General is for a Security Council resolution for a continued UN presence in East Timor with oversight for the general response of the international community, particularly in relation to policing.

MACGREGOR: So what would these countries in a possible UN mission in East Timor be providing? Would it be the bulk of the policing force?

CAMILLERI: Well I think at this point in time with things having degenerated as much as they have over the last week or two, I think you would need to have an international policing operation that has primary responsibility for policing but with a program built into the mission which allows for the progressive handing back of the policing roles to East Timorese policing forces, together with other political arrangements that will need to come into force to ensure that military and police and the political sides of things, namely the government are operating in a smooth transitional period, which will lead us hopefully to smooth and coherent set of election processes next year.

MACGREGOR: The Australian Prime Minister John Howard has not ruled out a new multinational mission similar to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. Is that perhaps the best solution?

CAMILLERI: Well I think the best solution must be a UN mandated mission, there must not be regional responses which can be interpreted as having basically been spearheaded by this government or that government, with Australia or any other country, whether it be Portugal or any other country be seen as basically organising the show to suit its own understanding of what's going on and so an interest. I think in the long-term interests not only of East Timor but of Australia and other interested regional parties and of the international community that is really the only way to go. Then you have an international spotlight which is able to assess how well that international response if faring, whether it's living up to its expectations and to the needs and aspirations of East Timorese people.

MACGREGOR: Now when the UN peacekeeping mandate ran out last year Australia was strongly opposed to its continuing. In hindsight would it have been better to have the UN peacekeeping mission operating in East Timor?

CAMILLERI: Yes it was a terrible mistake on the part of the Australian government and I hope it has learnt something from this. Australia cannot be East Timor's policeman, Portugal can't be East Timor's policeman, China cannot be East Timor's policeman. It can only be an international response with stages but with proper oversight to ensure that at some point the East Timorese authorities have been properly trained, equipped to be able to handle it by themselves, but in a staged process, in a phased process with oversight and international reporting at all times, transparency and accountability.


The Wall Street Journal Thursday, June 1, 2006


Due Dili-gence

Pity the poor East Timorese. Four years after independence, the country would have plunged headfirst into civil war in recent weeks were it not for a rapid deployment of Antipodean and Malaysian troops, plus the assumption of emergency powers by President Xanana Gusmao on Tuesday. That's a stark change of fortune for a nation once hailed as one of the United Nations' greatest triumphs. It is also a good reason to re-examine what has gone so very wrong.

The recent trouble, which echoes the bloody events of 1999, was reportedly sparked by the dismissal of 594 troops from East Timor's miniscule military. Those fired hailed mostly from the country's western region. They claimed that the military's top brass, most of whom hail from the east, had discriminated against them.

Given that regional divides haven't historically played much of a role in East Timorese society, that sounds like a thin excuse for mob violence. The troops were more likely frustrated about their desperate economic circumstances, not to mention the military's diminished role under the ruling Fretilin government, which founded a paramilitary group within the police force.

The former concern could have been more deftly handled by Dili's policy makers, though they admittedly inherited a mess. Lisbon, which ruled Timor for three centuries, left the country in tatters, and Jakarta, which occupied it from 1975-1999, did only marginally better. The 2003 resolution of a maritime dispute with Australia boded better. That allowed the new country to tap vast oil and gas revenues in the Timor Sea. Given where commodity prices have gone over the past four years, the timing couldn't have been better. Last year, the East Timor government posted a budget surplus and has started to stash a slug of the windfall into a Norway-style Petroleum Fund in an effort to stave off Dutch disease.

But despite this largesse, East Timor's impoverished citizenry didn't see much change. Capital expenditure, which composes a significant proportion of GDP, declined in the first few years of Fretilin's rule, according to the International Monetary Fund. Infrastructure repairs were slow, and the pace of foreign investment even slower. Economic growth, at around 2%, remained sluggish. Meanwhile, in an ironic peace dividend in the predominantly Catholic country, the birth rate spiked, creating an urgent need for the government to kickstart the economy.

Dili's policy makers simply weren't up to the task. Most of the government elite, including Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, had spent the bulk of their adult lives in exile or actively fighting a guerrilla war against Indonesia, not learning the intricacies of governing. As author Paul Cleary explains in an article on a nearby page, Mr. Alkatiri surrounded himself with a group of former exiles, dubbed the "Mozambique clique," who did little to promote debate and thoughtful policy making within the new administration. The mid-level bureaucracy was slow to implement the ministers' policies and inexperienced.

Instead of tapping foreign advice and goodwill early on to plug these holes, Mr. Alkatiri entered into a kind of siege mindset, centralizing power and implementing a series of decisions that alienated wide swathes of his political base. Most unpopular was the decision to make Portuguese -- a language of the exiles, but not of the nation -- the official language. Fretilin also adopted the national flag as its party symbol, a not-so-subtle claim to absolute power. Even the diplomatic World Bank noted that "Less centralization in decision-making, accompanied by effective monitoring and safeguards, would lead to stronger performance." Translation: The current setup just isn't working.

Perhaps this shouldn't come as a great surprise. Led by Mr. Alkatiri, Fretilin steamed to an overwhelming victory in the 2002 election, thanks to his independence-fighter credentials and the party's superior organizational skills. Since then, Fretilin has occupied 55 of 88 seats in the East Timorese parliament. Given the weakness of the presidency, that gave Mr. Alkatiri and his advisers a fairly free hand.

Mr. Gusmao's declaration on Tuesday that he'd taken control of the military signals a welcome correction to this power imbalance. Since he's commander in chief, the action seems legal, too. Yesterday, calm prevailed in the capital, implying that the president wields a great deal of moral authority.

But the authority of one man is rarely enough to build a nation with as violent a history as East Timor, nor to hold it physically together in its current state. Thankfully, President Gusmao called Canberra for help when mobs ran out of control. That was a good idea. It was encouraging, too, to see New Zealand and Malaysia contribute forces.

After calm has been restored, the East Timorese government might want to think about how useful it is to keep an army in place that has so little to do. Indonesia, especially under the leadership of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is now a relatively benign neighbor (and has stayed admirably out of the current conflict), and it is in Australia's interests to keep the country stable. It's fine if Dili wants to keep a small, professional fighting force, but it needs to define the group's role clearly.

Next year is an election year in East Timor. If Fretilin's performance is anything to go by, it's time for a change. But it's up to the East Timorese to make that call at the ballot box.

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